Froi + Quintana

I'm combining my reviews of Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn for two reasons: it decreases spoiler-ism (I hope), and they simply belong together. I can't separate the stories in my head. If you've not read Finnikin of the Rock, you need to. While the events of Froi and Quintana take place some three years after Finnikin, you need to know the back story. You need to know the characters. You need to fall in love with Lumatere. Because if you don't love Lumatere, these books will be ... flat. (Or you could probably read them like a normal person, without the huge emotional investment/toll that I experienced. Oy...but we'll get to that). That said, allow me to try and make sense of my feelings about these books.

Froi of the Exiles
Melina Marchetta
Candlewick, 2012 (originally published in 2011)

Picking up the story three years after Finnikin and Isaboe return Lumatere to peace and life, there's still much unrest among the nations of Skuldenore. After years of heartache and deception, finding peace is difficult, especially for Queen Isaboe. When a Charyn rebel appears in the Valley, below Lucian and the Monts' mountain, with a plea for help in the assasination of the Charyn king (the one who orchestrated the horror of the Lumaterans), Finnikin and his Guard are cautious but curious. As they discuss things, Froi finds himself strangely drawn to this Charynite. And with his undeniable skill, and brains, it's not a surprise when it is decided that Froi will slip into Charyn, under the pretense of being Olivier, the Last Born of Sebastopol, and kill the king. But things are rarely as simple as they seem, and Froi quickly realizes there is more to Charyn than he thought - and more to himself as well.

If the curse over Lumatere was hard and complicated, the curse hanging over Charyn is ten times more difficult. On the day Princess Quintana was born, all pregnant women miscarried, and no child had been born since. The Last Borns were treasured, and through them the curse is promised to be broken. Specifically, through Quintana. But Charyn politics are insane, and Quintana is thought to be at least half-mad and quite probably possessed. Froi knows better than to get involved, with any of it. But ... he can't help himself. And as he finds himself drawn into the complicated network of alliances and grudges and fighting, he discovers that what he thinks he knows is only scratching the surface.

I stayed up entirely too late reading this book. It sucked me in, drew me deep into the story. I became emotionally invested and connected with the characters. Froi, struggling to balance his bonds, to know what to do, to know who he is - he stole my heart. Quintana is a force to be reckoned with, and the entire cast of characters have surprising depth. When it ended, I was left feeling like someone had slammed into my chest, knocking me breathless and hanging over the edge of a cliff. Torture. Book hangover of a scale I haven't experienced since Pegasus. Thankfully, I had Quintana at hand and could quickly pick up the story again -- so do not read Froi without ready access to Quintana. You've been warned.

Book provided by publisher for review.

Quintana of the Exiles
Melina Marchetta
Candlewick, 2013 (originally published in 2012)

After Froi's attempt to escort Quintana to a place of safety goes horribly awry, it's as though the Princess has disappeared. Nobody knows where to find her, and the unrest in Charyn is getting more and more complicated. With Froi and Quintana separated, the story is more complex in its telling, and the chronology gets a little blurred. Marchetta does a great job of making everything work however, and seeing their individual journeys weave and interplay - despite the distance - adds depth. And emotional turmoil. (I almost think she was trying to destroy what was left of my heart).

As Froi struggles to balance his identity as a Lumateran with his identity as a Charynite, he finds himself - and his ragtag family unit - part of a gathering army preparing to find and "rescue" the missing Quintana. This group, fractured and flawed as all of Charyn, has a vision for the future of the country. A future that Froi is destined to be separate from, but determined to help create - for the sake of Quintana and the Little King. Quintana, meanwhile, has found refuge in the Valley, right under the nose of Lucian and Lumatere (and thus wholly and entirely 'safe' from the roving Charynites hunting for her). Hiding in a cave, waiting - fighting - for her life and a chance at comparative freedom, Quintana learns much about herself, and her world. Key in this growth is Phaedra, the complicated-former-sorta-almost-could-be-again wife of Lucian. Phaedra also grows during the time of hiding, growing stronger and more confident, finding her sense of purpose - as well as discovering love.

Love feels like a central theme, actually, stringing all the individual characters and their stories together. Isaboe and Finnikin, Lucian and Phaedra, Tessadora and Perri, Froi and Quintana, Gargarin, Arjuro and Lirah - all of these people discover that what is moving them, what is pushing them into battling their personal demons, ultimately is love. And the ultimate discovery is that Love is bigger than pasts, bigger than boundaries between countries, bigger than prejudices and misunderstandings. Love takes many forms, manifests in different ways, but is - after all - the most powerful force.

The Lumatere Chronicles are masterfully written fantasy, with carefully drawn, complex characters. It's a story that will work its way into your heart while you read, dominating your imagination and creating a bond between you and the people on the page. I'm almost sad to see the end of the series, but Marchetta wrapped everything up so beautifully - leaving a sense of fulfillment, as well as a knowing that the story "goes on" somehow.

ARC provided by publisher for review.

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